The worldwide market for handheld devices continued along its downward path during the third quarter of 2006.

According to research firm IDC, total worldwide shipments of handheld devices fell to 1.1 million units, down 15.4% from the previous quarter and down 31.3% from the same quarter one year ago. This quarter constitutes the eleventh consecutive quarter of year-on-year decline for the worldwide handheld market.

"Contributing significantly to the decrease in shipments this quarter was a lack of new devices being announced or shipped to the market," said Ramon Llamas, IDC Mobile Markets team research analyst.

"Vendors continue to rely on models that have been on the market anywhere between two and four quarters. Without many new devices on the market in the third quarter, it brings into question how shipments will total during the fourth quarter when vendors typically expect a boost in shipments as a result of new devices coming to market."

The absence of new models does not necessarily mean the end of the handheld market, however IDC said.

"There are users who remain fiercely loyal to their handheld devices, and smaller niche users have emerged," Llamas added. "For example, in some developing markets, the handheld device has been tremendously important in self-education, enabling users to continue learning outside the classroom once they have downloaded content through the PC. If usage for specific non-network tasks like self-education increase, we could expect an increase in shipments and possibly new devices that are optimised for particular tasks."

The top five handheld vendors in the third quarter of 2006 identified by IDC were Palm with 40.9% market share, HP with 21.8%, Dell and Mio with 9.5% each and Sharp with 14.5%. Other manufacturers made up the remaining 14% of the market.